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30 Jan – 9 Feb 2025

Elene Naveriani on their latest empowering tale

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“I really wanted it to be beautiful,” says Georgian filmmaker Elene Naveriani about their ambition for their third feature, the Hubert Bals Fund-backed Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry, screening at IFFR 2024 in Harbour. “Beautiful aesthetically”, they continue, “so that it charms you and it kind of mesmerises you. I wanted her to be mesmerising and glowing.”

Film still: Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry
Film still: Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry

The film’s lead is the radically independent Etero, whose a-typical coming-of-age in her late forties we follow. In small-town Georgia she looks forward to her retirement when those around her battle against their age. Her contentment with herself, with her humble existence picking blackberries by the side of the river, with the sights and smells of her village, offer a beautiful and striking example against an unspoken context of runaway capitalist ambition. That is until she finds herself in love with a local delivery driver. 

“I know so many Eteros around me.”

“It spoke to me because I know so many Eteros around me”, Naveriani says, describing how they adapted the film from a hit Georgian novel by Tamta Melashvili. “This struggle, how she kind of learned to be this woman, and how she’s trying to unlearn everything throughout the film and the book.” Etero’s journey of reconciling her values and her desires proves to be the film’s real charm. “Little by little she discovers something that basically she always had but she was not able to express or to live this.”

Naveriani bought the book on a trip back home to Georgia, and without the proper time to read it when they were there, read it on the plane back to Switzerland. “From the first sentence, for me, it was something extremely visual. I started to basically read the film.” That they discovered it between the two places is perhaps a good metaphor for the film’s production, being a Swiss-Georgian co-production mostly funded on the Swiss side and without Georgian public funding. 

“It was really a huge help for us.”

The film was supported by IFFR’s Hubert Bals Fund for development in 2021. “It was really a huge help for us”, they say, explaining how it provided funds at a crucial moment in the film’s development. “I love to bring people in earlier. With basically the entire main crew, we could go on the locations together and really scout and just discuss and, you know, already kind of get the feel and atmosphere of what I wanted to do.” 

The resulting film is indeed rich in its atmosphere. The pastel-toned interiors, the natural scenery, the indulgent slices of Georgian pastry and the spoons of blackberry jam give it much of its warmth. But Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry truly owes its allure to Etero and the performance of Eka Chavleishvili, whose presence on the screen effortlessly engrosses. “Without saying much, she could already talk a lot, the way she is and how she moves, how she looks at things.” 

Film still: Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry

“We’re not looking at bodies like hers often on a screen.”

“We’re not looking at bodies like hers often on a screen”, describes the filmmaker. “I wanted just to somehow gradually build up the human, build up the body, so that slowly you just forget about it and she just becomes normal. She becomes something that doesn’t stick out from the frame.”

Naveriani moved to Switzerland to study film in 2008 and has never moved back, although they frequently visit and have set all three of their features in Georgia. “I get a lot of opinions about this” they say, in relation to their take on their home country. “‘You don’t find villages like this in Georgia’; ‘You don’t find people like them’, the kind of characters that I kind of imagine in my stories: ‘they wouldn’t behave this way.’”

It’s not something that bothers them, they say, explaining how they’re not aiming for an ethnographic take on Georgia but just feel most comfortable making films there. “It is an imaginary place”, they agree. “I need to find something very universal that it could cross in different societies. But in this universality, there has to be something very specific that I could kind of anchor myself. Otherwise, I could get lost.”

Film still: Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry

“They believe that something can be changed in this world.”

All of Naveriani’s films have this universal allure, championing those on the margins and speaking out for those who go against the grain, and often suffer as a result. I Am Truly a Drop of Sun on Earth (2017) premiered at IFFR, about the camaraderie between a prostitute and an immigrant, followed by Wet Sand (2021) about the closeted lovelife of a grandfather in a small town and its tragic consequences.

Does anything unite the characters in Naveriani’s films? “They do something empowering, empowering for themselves, but also they empower others, I would say. They give energy to others. Somehow they radiate this. They allow themselves to think that change is possible. I think they believe that something can be changed in this world.” 

Elene Naveriani and producers Ketie Danelia and Thomas Reichlin will join the emerging producers in the Rotterdam Lab to present the film as the 2024 edition’s Rotterdam Lab: Co-production Case-study.

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